It was the very first contact drill of camp. The very... first... play. And
just like that, the Cleveland Browns' once-promising season appears to be over.
The Browns were running the first 11-on-11 play of training camp when LeCharles Bentley suddenly went down with what appears to be a serious injury to his left patellar tendon (early reports are calling it a tear). The two-time Pro Bowl center and key free agent acquisition spent several minutes on the turf before trainers fitted him with an air cast and carried him to a cart. A clearly distraught Bentley left the field with a towel over his head.
Bentley is almost certain to be placed on Injured Reserve.
This is the kind of stuff that seems to happen to the Browns all too frequently. Sure, major pre-season injuries happen. But how often do you see a team's most talented player—and Bentley was exactly that—go down on the very first drill of training camp?
What's more distressing is the fate that apparently awaits any top draft pick or free agent coming to Cleveland. By way of evidence I offer a look at our first-round draft choices since 1999:
Tim Couch: Broke his thumb on the helmet of backup linebacker Ryan Taylor during practice in October, 2000. He missed the final nine games of the season. Status: Out of football.
Courtney Brown: Suffered numerous, serious injuries, and missed a total of 33 games over four seasons from 2001-2004. Status: Signed with the Broncos.
William Green: Arrested on drunk driving and drug possession charges in October 2003, Green was later stabbed in the back by his wife Asia Gray. Suspended the final eight games for violating the terms of the league substance abuse program. Status: Still on team.
Jeff Faine: Failed to finish out an NFL campaign in three seasons with the Browns, from 2003-2005, suffering ankle and biceps injuries. Status: Traded to New Orleans.
Kellen Winslow, Jr.: Missed almost his entire rookie season, after breaking his leg in the closing seconds of the second game of the 2004 season. In 2005, Winslow was severely injured in a preseason motorcycle accident and did not play. Status: Still on team.
Braylon Edwards: Tore his ACL on December 4, just as he was getting involved in the offense. Status: Still on team and should return to play in the second half of 2006.
Since 1999, the Browns have selected eight first round draft choices. Of those, only Gerard Warren and Kamerion Wimbley haven't missed significant time due to injury or bad judgment, and Wimbley hasn't even played yet. Second round picks have felt the bite as well. Who can forget Dennis Northcutt's ill-timed fall off a rock that resulted in a broken collar bone? Or Sean Jones' season-ending ACL tear before his rookie campaign? Or even Chaun Thompson's worrying chronic wrist condition?
Still, the injury to Bentley reminds me most of the 2002 Achilles' tendon injury that ended Jamir Miller's season before it began. Miller was coming off a spectacular 13-sack season, by far the best showing of a strong eight-year career. Then, in the first quarter of the Browns first preseason game, Miller's Achilles' tendon just snapped. There was no contact on the play. Just like that, the only Cleveland player to make the Pro Bowl since 1999 was done. Finished. Miller would never play another down.
At the very least, LeCharles Bentley should avoid Miller's fate. After all, Bentley is only in his fifth season, and this is the first knee injury he's suffered. By all accounts, he'll be back in 2007. And with any luck, he'll be paired with a fully-healthy Braylon Edwards, an experienced Charlie Frye, and a potent young defense led by Kamerion Wimbley and D'Qwell Jackson.
But that's all that's left for Browns fans when the inevitable injury bug takes a huge bite out of our top draft picks and free agents. Wait till next year. But man, it's tough to wait until next year when this year hasn't even started yet.
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